Wi-Fi 6 hardware is now common, and there’s a good chance you have a Wi-Fi 6 network. But people are already talking about something new: Wi-Fi 6E, which promises to reduce Wi-Fi congestion further.
Update: We originally wrote this article in January 2020. On April 23, 2020, the Federal Communications Commission voted to open up the 6 GHz band for unlicensed use. A few Wi-Fi 6E hardware devices began appearing in 2021. On December 28, 2021, a court ruling reiterated the approval, clearing the way for Wi-Fi 6E in the USA. Not every country has made the same decision, so Wi-Fi 6E still faces regulatory barriers in some countries.
What Is Wi-Fi 6E?
Wi-Fi 6 and previous generations of Wi-Fi use the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz radio bands. A “Wi-Fi 6E” device is one that is capable of operating on the 6 GHz band, too.
The 6 GHz spectrum should work similarly to WiFi 6 over 5 GHz but offers additional non-overlapping channels. As the Wi-Fi Alliance puts it, Wi-Fi 6E allows for “14 additional 80 MHz channels and 7 additional 160 MHz channels.” These channels wouldn’t overlap with each other, which will help reduce congestion, particularly in areas where lots of networks are operating.
All the devices communicating on the 6 GHz spectrum would also be Wi-Fi 6 devices. There wouldn’t be any older devices using standards like Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac). All devices on the 6 GHz channels will be speaking the same language and can use Wi-Fi 6’s new congestion-busting features.
In other words, Wi-Fi 6E is Wi-Fi 6 (also known as 802.11ax) over 6 GHz.
Wi-Fi Over 6 GHz Requires New Devices
Wi-Fi 6E devices will be backward compatible with Wi-Fi 6 and previous Wi-Fi standards. But, to take advantage of those new 6 GHz channels in Wi-Fi 6E, you’ll need to be using devices that support it. In other words, you’ll only be using Wi-Fi 6E once you pair a Wi-Fi 6E-enabled client device (like a laptop or smartphone) and a WI-Fi 6E-enabled access point.
For example, even if you have a bunch of Wi-Fi 6 devices and a Wi-Fi 6E-enabled router, none of your devices will communicate over Wi-FI 6E. They’ll all be using Wi-Fi 6 on the typical 5 GHz or 2.4 GHz channels.
Wi-Fi 6E Required Regulatory Approval
If 6 GHz is so useful, why didn’t existing Wi-Fi standards already use it? Well, they couldn’t. Regulatory agencies didn’t allow Wi-Fi to use the 6 GHz band, instead reserving it for other purposes.
Back in October 2018, the US Federal Communications Commission proposed offering the 6 GHz spectrum for Wi-Fi and other “unlicensed” uses. That didn’t happen immediately, and Wi-Fi 6E began to take shape prior to its regulatory approval. On April 23, 2020, the FCC voted to open the 6 GHz band to Wi-Fi 6E and other uses later in 2020, so Wi-Fi 6E devices are cleared to launch in the US.
The Wi-Fi Alliance’s pre-CES 2020 announcement of Wi-Fi 6E acknowledges this, referring to 6 GHz as “an important portion of unlicensed spectrum that may soon be made available by regulators around the world.” Note the word “may” rather than the word “will”—it’s up to government regulators, not the industry.
When Will Wi-Fi 6E Hardware Be Available?
The Wi-Fi Alliance also says that “Wi-Fi 6E devices are expected to become available quickly following 6 GHz regulatory approvals.”
At the start of 2022, Wi-Fi 6E hardware is definitely becoming more common. At the end of 2021, you could already buy routers and mesh networking systems from brands like Asus with Wi-Fi 6E. Multiple manufacturers like Netgear and TP-Link announced more Wi-Fi 6E routers at CES 2022. Android phones like the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and Google Pixel 6 support Wi-Fi 6E, although no Apple devices have Wi-Fi 6E support yet.
Intel is also promoting Wi-Fi 6E, which it calls “GIG+”. As Intel continues adding this feature to its platforms for manufacturers, more and more Intel-powered laptops should appear with Wi-Fi 6E support.
Even before approval, the industry already seemed eager for regulators to allow Wi-Fi 6. During CES 2020, Broadcom announced several system-on-a-chip products that router manufacturers can purchase to create Wi-Fi 6E-enabled access points.
Don’t Wait For Wi-Fi 6E: Wi-Fi 6 Is Great
In technology, there’s always something new on the horizon. For Wi-Fi right now, that’s Wi-Fi 6E.
Many Wi-Fi 6 devices, like routers, laptops, smartphones, are already for sale. Wi-Fi 6 isn’t an extreme upgrade in terms of speed, but it will lead to faster Wi-Fi along with less wireless congestion and perhaps even extended battery life for your devices.
Meanwhile, Wi-Fi 6E isn’t as widespread. You can buy a Wi-Fi 6E router to be future-proof, but most wireless devices you’ll connect to your router don’t support Wi-Fi 6E yet. For example, at the start of 2022, no Apple devices support Wi-Fi 6E, although they do support Wi-Fi 6.
Even after you can buy Wi-Fi 6E-enabled devices, the main benefit will be reduced congestion through additional wireless channels. That’s a great long-term goal, but we don’t think it’s worth holding out for if you’re thinking about upgrading to Wi-Fi 6 gear.
There’s a good chance that new devices you purchase will have Wi-Fi 6. We definitely recommend you at least buy a Wi-Fi 6 router if you haven’t already done so. You’ll be able to take proper advantage of all your Wi-Fi 6 devices. But you probably won’t get Wi-Fi 6E on many devices just yet. That’s fine. Wi-Fi 6E sounds nice, but it’s not common yet.
Wi-Fi 6E Isn’t WiGig
Note that the 6 GHz band for Wi-Fi 6E is different from the 60 GHz band, which WiGig will take advantage of. Wi-Fi 6E’s 6 GHz will work similarly to Wi-Fi’s 5 GHz, while WiGig is ideal for faster data transfer rates over shorter distances.
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